UTSA vs. San Diego State prediction, pick for the 2021 Tropical Smoothie Cafe Frisco Bowl

Here's a preview of the UTSA vs. San Diego State matchup in the Tropical Smoothie Cafe Frisco Bowl, complete with a pick and a prediction.

One team is 12-1. The other is 11-2. Both have embarked on stellar college football campaigns, but which one will set off into the offseason with a season-ending victory? Let’s put the microscope on the UTSA vs. San Diego State matchup, as well as provide our pick and prediction for the 2021 Tropical Smoothie Cafe Frisco Bowl.

UTSA vs. San Diego State betting odds and trends

  • Spread: San Diego State -2.5
  • Moneyline: San Diego State -135, UTSA +115
  • Total: 49

It’s the Tropical Smoothie Cafe Frisco Bowl (say that ten times fast), but it features two teams from the southwestern quarter of the continental United States. One — UTSA — is riding high after earning the C-USA crown in a hard-fought game against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers. The other — San Diego State — was thoroughly embarrassed in the Mountain West Championship game by Utah State.

Even though the two teams are heading in opposite directions as they near bowl season, San Diego State is still a slight favorite over the Roadrunners, edging them out with a spread of 2.5 points. The point total implies a relatively defensive game, the kind of game San Diego State has won all year. Brady Hoke’s Aztecs have allowed just 19.5 points per game — a figure that ranks 16th in the entire league.

Normally, UTSA would carry more resistance against this kind of projected total. But the team’s best offensive player, running back Sincere McCormick, has officially opted out of the bowl game, choosing to instead prepare for the 2022 NFL Draft. Without McCormick, UTSA loses its engine of the offense. There’s still talent there, but things won’t be as easy against the formidable San Diego State defense.

UTSA vs. San Diego State prediction

McCormick’s opt-out is one of the bigger developments leading up to this bowl game, but another of note is cornerback Tariq Woolen. Woolen is a Senior Bowl addition, and he’s also intent on preserving his 2022 NFL Draft stock. Thus, the Roadrunners are without their best player on each side of the ball.

That said, UTSA is still very much well-stocked without McCormick and Woolen. On offense, Frank Harris has been a valuable dual-threat weapon. And in the receiving corps, he has high-level playmakers like Zakhari Franklin, Joshua Cephus, and De’Corian Clark at his disposal. There’s no one-to-one replacement for McCormick, but the Roadrunners’ passing attack can compensate a bit.

The Aztecs aren’t going to win this game with their offense. Rather, it’ll be up to them to stymie what’s left of UTSA’s scoring attack. EDGE Cameron Thomas will likely match up against left tackle Spencer Burford on a few plays. If Thomas can generate pressure against the Senior Bowl prospect, that’ll be step one in slowing Jeff Traylor’s squad.

Step two? Capitalize on that pressure and generate turnovers. That hasn’t been a problem for San Diego State this year. The Aztecs have 16 team interceptions and a whopping 54 deflections this year, led by safeties Patrick McMorris (4 INTs, 8 PBUs) and Trenton Thompson (3 INTs, 13 PBUs). They can both cover ground and make plays, and they can funnel UTSA out of the deep third.

Does shorthanded UTSA have enough to cover the spread?

The spread is -2.5, which is less than a field goal. So this is almost as close to picking straight-up as you’re going to get. As imposing as San Diego State’s defense looks each week, the mismatch between the Aztecs’ offense and the Roadrunners’ defense might be more stark.

UTSA allowed just 23.6 points per game this year. Granted, they had some rough patches late in the year, but they have guys who can make plays when it’s needed. Even without Woolen, players like Rashad Wisdom, Antonio Parks, Clarence Hicks, Jahmal Sam, and Ken Robinson have all stepped up in high-pressure moments this season.

Against a San Diego State offense that doesn’t generate many of those moments, UTSA might have enough to sneak by. Greg Bell is a solid back, but if San Diego State falls behind, they’ll have to rely on a subpar passing game. That passing attack has never been a strength this year, and even a Woolen-less UTSA should be able to match up.

UTSA vs. San Diego State prediction: UTSA 26, San Diego State 16

Ian Cummings is a Draft Analyst for Pro Football Network. You can find his writing here and follow him on Twitter: @ian_cummings_9